Alan Wake 2 Review: Narrative Artistry To A Fault
The release of Alan Wake 2 comes thirteen years after the original saw the light of day back in 2010. Developer Remedy Entertainment has a penchant for blending reality with fiction, intertwining live-action sequences with the gaming experience. Alan Wake 2 continues what Quantum Break started, encapsulating elements from several mediums; it’s a game, a film, a TV series, and, at times even a novel. As such, it is a multifaceted and complex work; one that is bound to be divisive when viewed through the lens of gaming audiences.
The game takes place in the eerie mining town of Bright Falls, Washington. Alan Wake, a renowned author, had vanished into the depths of Cauldron Lake, never to return from the mysterious Dark Place. He finds himself in a place where the line between fact and fiction blurs, and reality melds with the stories spun by the human mind. As his disappearance fades into history, a series of gruesome murders begin to emerge. An FBI agent and her partner are, therefore, sent to investigate the mysterious town.
The narrative shifts between two protagonists: Saga Anderson, the aforementioned FBI agent, and the eponymous writer, Alan Wake. The setting is starkly different, with Saga navigating the real world while Alan grapples with the haunting Dark Place, a reimagined New York shrouded in darkness. Alan’s section features an open map that creates an illusion of non-linearity, while Saga’s section spans three different regions that can be traveled to using a car. Switching between the two protagonists is only possible past a certain point in the narrative from inside break rooms that are located across the map in both realities.
Within his Writer’s Room, Alan can alter specific settings based on collected echoes from the environment using a Plot Board, essentially rewriting events to align with historical context. While this mechanic begins with great potential, it gradually loses depth and variety, essentially becoming a tool to advance the narrative without presenting any noteworthy player involvement. Similarly, Saga’s unique ability is her Mind Palace. This inner sanctum in her thoughts provides a place for reviewing collected documents, discovering clues, profiling, and formulating conclusions on the Case Board. Each significant juncture in the narrative corresponds to a section of the aforementioned board, with each clue represented as a card. As is the case with Alan, the mechanic initially appears to add a layer of complexity, but it is essentially devoid of deduction on the player’s part. In practice, it serves as a tool for you to engage with Saga’s character as she shares her thoughts and observations. As a result, both mechanics don’t do much from a gameplay standpoint.
Alan Wake 2 delves deep into meta-narrative, pushing the boundaries of breaking the fourth wall. The game’s arthouse style of storytelling transcends traditional methods by seamlessly converging with TV and film. In doing so, it often puts itself on the verge of being an interactive TV series, creating experiential gimmicks that get precedence over important aspects of the interactive medium. Nevertheless, Remedy’s bold direction and dedication to unique artistic expression are worthy of praise. At the very least, it’s a far more cohesive approach than having to sit through Quantum Break’s live-action episodes between chunks of gameplay.
Combat in Alan Wake 2 feels like more of an afterthought to the narrative artistry. Given its lack of depth and diversity, it seems as if it serves only to fill the void between narrative segments rather than being an integral part of the experience. As a third-person shooter, the game follows standard survival horror conventions by offering limited ammunition and a constant sense of dread. Enemies are lacking in variety, and even bosses, which often mark the conclusion of a narrative act, are more noteworthy for the path you must take to reach them. While these sequences are appealing from a narrative and staging perspective, the actual combat mechanics remain lackluster and repetitive. The weapons at your disposal are both limited and lacking in terms of variety. Moreover, the combat loop of having to shine a flashlight on enemies in order to weaken them before using firearms to defeat them was among the least compelling aspects of the original Alan Wake, and it’s disappointing to see it return with little in the way of evolution.
The game’s pacing is not without its share of issues, either. Frequent reliance on fuses and padlock combinations often feels like unnecessary padding that breaks the pace of crucial story segments.
One gameplay mechanic that does work well is Alan’s ability to capture light from one source and deposit it into another. Doing so alters the surrounding environment and creates new paths. This element of environmental puzzle solving is intuitive and challenging, paving the way for some Metroidvania-inspired exploration to access key objectives or areas with side content.
Alan Wake 2 represents a unique yet divisive experience. Depending on where you stand on the convergence of interactive and non-interactive mediums, you may perceive it as a work of art or as an experience where gameplay is overlooked in favor of narrative artistry.
The technical performance of the PC port for Alan Wake 2 is commendable. The game is designed to run smoothly on a broad spectrum of devices, even though the system requirements may initially seem rather demanding. As outlined in our comprehensive settings guide, the game can be executed on any reasonably modern PC while still delivering visuals that are on par with next-generation standards.
One of the standout features of this port is its support for Path Tracing, a visual feature that was previously only available in Cyberpunk 2077. This technology significantly enhances the game’s lighting effects, creating a transformative visual experience. However, it’s important to note that the use of Path Tracing comes with a performance trade-off. In my own testing with an older RTX graphics card, the decline in performance was substantial enough to outweigh the visual benefits.
Therefore, if you wish to fully capitalize on the Path Tracing feature in Alan Wake 2, it is advisable to have at least a 40XX series graphics card, equipped with Frame Generation and DLSS technologies. This will enable you to experience the game’s stunning visuals without compromising on performance.
Alan Wake 2 Game Information
- Price: $59.99
- Publisher: Epic Games Publishing
- Developer: Remedy Entertainment
- Platform: PC & PS5 (Reviewed)
- Disclaimer: A review code was given by the publisher